24 Oct 2019

The ‘Sani Pass Phase 2a – Structures’ project was awarded joint first place at the South African institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) 2019 Awards, for ‘most outstanding civil engineering achievement’ in the category “Community-based Projects”.

 Sani Pass Consortium JV wins prestigious SAICE Award | Royal HaskoningDHV

Image: Royal HaskoningDHV, SFC Engineers, and Ndizani Civil Works, as theSani Pass Consortium, partnered with the KwaZulu-Natal Departmentof Transport to upgrade the Pass

This comes shortly after the project was awarded special commendations at the Pietermaritzburg Branch Awards, and at the 2019 CESA Aon Engineering Excellence Awards.

Royal HaskoningDHV, SFC Engineers, and Ndizani Civil Works formed the professional team for the project, partnering with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport to upgrade the Pass.

Sani Pass is the only road link between KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho, and is also the only road that crosses the summit of the Drakensberg mountain range and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.

As the most iconic gravel pass in South Africa, Sani has evolved from paths worn down over many years by horses, mules, and pedestrians, into a treacherous 4x4-only route. It served as a busy trading passage in the first half of the 20th century and is today an important revenue-generating tourist attraction for the region.

But inadequate road drainage, as well as gravel loss and erosion caused by high-intensity storms and flooding, means the Pass is often closed for expensive maintenance. These closures not only cut off the surrounding impoverished communities from basic services, but also result in loss of revenue to the tourism industry, a critical economic contributor to the region.

Road to livelihood

Importantly, construction work could not restrict the movement of people. And, since the Pass is located within a heritage site and an environmentally sensitive area, any upgrade had to be aesthetically pleasing and blend into the environment, sustainable, and contribute to the preservation of the area’s biological and cultural heritage.

Challenging terrain

With a summit of 2876 metres above sea level and complicated geographical conditions, normal spread footing or piled foundations were not possible solutions for Sani Pass, due to its steep terrain and the fact that the site is inaccessible to piling rigs.

It was important that drainage structures did not disrupt the flow of the river, and that the bridge openings were wide enough for falling boulders to pass through without damaging or obstructing the road.

Community benefits

The project created 79 job opportunities for members of the local community. Local small and medium-sized businesses also provided support on various elements of the project.

To respect the heritage of the area, the team rescued and replanted indigenous plants, removed alien plants, and rehabilitated the road edges.

With better drainage and a more solid structure, the Sani Pass bridge will reduce the damage caused by rains and flooding. This, in turn, will contribute to the economic development of the area as there will be far fewer road closures.